The Midnight Train
There was blood on Irving’s hands. It all happened so fast. The moment came with a quick push, a boom, and the final bang. A man was dead and riding the Midnight Train, maybe to Heaven but probably Hell.
Irving stood over the man, waiting for an answer from Heaven or Hell; none ever came. He was guilty. He knew he had just shot a man. His mind jumped from the gun in his hand to the consequences that lay ahead.
Should I run? Should I stay? The words blurred together in Irving’s mind. His heart pumped fast for what felt like hours. What was left for him now? Would he run? Would there be time?
That night time had stopped. The sun refused to rise and bring the day. Irving was still a poor son of bitch with nothing to lose and everything to gain. He knew he was bound for Heaven or Hell. Not knowing which filled his young mind with fear and doubt.
After several minutes of wrestling with where he may end up he decided not to hazard a guess. Instead, he waited for what he assured himself was certain death; all part of a destiny he could not escape. He knew something would happen when he woke up that morning. His mother warned him to be careful before he left. She had warned him more than usual.
“I don’t want to hear about you riding the Midnight Train. You hear me, Irving?”
He could hear his mother’s voice in his head mixed in with the tales she used to tell him about the Midnight Train. She would always hold him tight and tell him he was never going to have to ride the Midnight Train out of town because he was such a good boy. She would talk about her uncle who died in a bar after drinking too much.
“Irving, just remember how your uncle died. He was alone that night and he did things he shouldn’t have. Make sure you’re careful. Your aunt wouldn’t want you to get in trouble. Neither would I, you know.” After a short but necessary pause his mother would add, “If anything happens just come home.” Then she would kiss him good bye.
It was after this that he always answered:“Yes mom. I’ll be careful. Don’t worry about me. Take care of yourself, Okay ma?” His tone was calm and rehearsed with the boredom and control of constant repetition.
That day, the Irving left with the worries of the world on his mind. He had no idea that death would be that, otherwise normal Thursday’s conquest. Now, he continued to stand over the man’s body waiting for some kind of sign. All the while, his crime proved his mother’s prophecy false. The Midnight Train had come. It had just taken the man whose name Irving didn’t even know.
The gun in Irving’s hand belonged to the man. Well, used to belong to the man. The man may have gotten it on one of those nights when he seemed to walk down the street to nowhere in particular. That was the man’s story as far as Irving knew it. Irving, on the other hand, had been sitting on a bench near the train station. He had been waiting for the train quite a long time before the man showed up.
“Hey. Excuse me sir. Could you tell me the time?”
“It’s eleven forty five.” He paused staring at Irving before turning away.
“How long have you been waiting?”
“About an hour and a half to two hours. By the way, thanks for the time.”
“Yeah, sure kid. What’s your name anyways?”
“Michael, but uh everyone calls me Irving.”
“Really, I don’t hear Everyone.” He laughed adding,“Irving huh. Kind of late to be out my yourself isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Irving’s answer was colored with disappointment and annoyance.
Some time passed before the man said another word to Irving.
“What do you do around here for fun?”
“Not sure. I didn’t think there was anything fun to do.”
“You’re funny kid. Can you tell any jokes?”
“Not good ones.”
“Well then, shoot.”
“Uh, okay. What did the… no. Um. Okay, I got it. How do you get a Harvard graduate off your porch?”
“I don’t know kid. You tell me.”
“Well, guess. Come on. Work with me here.”
“I don’t know.”
“Pay him for the pizza.”
The man let out a wry laugh followed by a sigh. “That was pretty good kid. Want some?”
The man took a drink from a small silver flask and waved it in front of Irving.
“Want some, kid? It’s good for you. Keeps you polished.”
‘Irving stared for a moment. Was the man serious? No, he couldn’t be serious,’ Irving thought.
“No thanks, I’ve had my bit for today,” he lied.
The man continued to take sips and make small talk with Irving while they waited for the train.
“So where you headed, Irving?”
“Memphis. How about you?”
“Boston to Memphis, eh? You’re a strange kid. What’s in Memphis?”
“My aunt. She’s wanted me to visit for a long time.”
“Well, Irving, if you’re smart you’ll sit with me.”
“Um sure. I guess. What do you mean?”
“Just saying kid. We gotta stick together.”
Irving figured that the middle aged man was just some nut who had escaped from the head shop so he played along. He didn’t want to agitate the man and there was no need for him to miss the train just to avoid the man. It was easier and more logical to sit through it and agree to whatever the man said. Apparently, the man had been talking about the Red Sox and the Yankees. Irving had missed most of the conversation and sat on the bench afraid to answer.
Then like some miracle, the train appeared and they got on. Irving thought about trying to find a crowd to lose the man in. Less than two minutes had elapsed and Irving realized that there would never be a crowd on the night train. Dammit, he thought to himself. The man turned and watched Irving. What am I supposed to do? This guy is on my tail. Oh please, hurry up Memphis, he muttered under his breath.
Meanwhile, the man stared at Irving with a serious face. Irving just sat there. He didn’t move or say a word. The man followed suit. Several hours had ticked away on the slow trip to Memphis when Irving remembered that the train would stop for an hour in Washington, DC. This was where he would lose the man. He planned to really lose the man in a crowd. The night train may have only had a few people, but the city would have tons, even at this hour so he could not fail. With one hour left until the train stopped in DC, Irving sat impatiently.
I can do this. I can do this. I don’t even know this guy, Irving thought feeling the weight of his decision on his twitchy left leg.
Irving sat next to the middle aged man reassuring himself that this was not the worst thing he could do. Not to the man sitting next to him. This was only a thing. A small thing he could do.
“Hey, Mr. Uh? What did you say your name was?”
The man looked away as if he was deep in thought. Then he turned back to Irving.
“You know, kid. I remember the good old days. The days when life was cheap and everything just fell into place. Yeah, those were the best days. Sometimes the worst days. In the end they were just days when we were thankful to be alive.”
Irving thought about it for a minute. He was only seventeen. He had not lived long enough to compare his life and experiences to those of the man. He knew this was true and wondered if the man wanted him to realize how young and naïve he really was. Suddenly, Irving turned away from the man. The seat creaked and groaned underneath him. The man flinched and stared at him as if he wanted to rip his arms off.
“Are you okay, kid? Did you say something? Were you talking to me? Did you talk at all? Did you hear that?”
“No. I didn’t say anything. I’m just sitting here. Don’t mind me.”
The man’s expression changed from something to nothing. He no longer looked angry; he just seemed to be missing emotions. The man had a deep seated sense of apathy that he tried to pass off as empathy. He sat still for a minute. Then he started to look over his shoulder and mumble to himself.
“Doggy, doggy, there you are. Doggy doggy, there you are.” He spoke under his breath in a child like voice for a few minutes. Then he stopped. He just stopped. Irving turned toward the man as goosebumps crawled down his arms and up to the back of his neck.
Crap, he’s gone nuts. Shit. What am I going to do now, he asked himself taking a deep breath. I can do this. I can do this, he told himself.
A while later, the train stopped in DC. Irving got up and slid past the middle aged.
“Hey kid, where you going,” the man asked as he stood up and grabbed Irving’s arm. Irving turned to the man inquisitively.
“What are you doing? Let go!”
“Where you going, kid?”
“None of your business, man!”
“Don’t talk to me like that, kid!”
“Dammit! My name is Irving. Stop calling me kid! I’m not your kid or your damn, whatever! Let me off this damn train.”
The man looked at Irving with the kind of meanness that makes it hard to swallow, let alone run. The man grabbed Irving’s other arm, pulling him so close that his glare stared back at him through Irving’s eyes. Fear entered Irving’s mind slowly poisoning his thoughts. He had to do more than lose the man. There was no other choice. He struggled, trying to pull himself back.
“Let me go. Let me go!”
Irving kept stepping back and being pulled forward by the man.
“Shut up, kid! Don’t argue with your elders,” the man yelled as he pushed Irving back against a wall; all the while, the train hummed on. Irving could feel small drops of spit hitting his face causing it to burn with anger. The screaming, the spit, and the angry middle aged man all came together at the worst of moments. Irving was panicking. He felt himself drowning and unable to swim. The pressure was mounting. Where the hell was DC? What could Irving do to escape? A simple and not so transient Nothing came to mind.
The train made a loud hum after which it started to wind down. Irving snapped back to reality; the one where the man seemed hell bent on killing or at least maiming him. The man closed his eyes and opened his mouth showing all his teeth. Then he ground his teeth together. Irving tried to shove him away and make a run for it. The man pulled him back hard and he fell on the floor.
“Stay there, kid.”
The man watched Irving unblinkingly.
“Don’t move, kid.”
Irving inched up to his feet slowly, making eye contact with the man. The man reached into his jacket pocket. Irving was tense. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. The man pulled something out. What was it? Irving couldn’t find the words until the man held the gun up to his face.
“Stand still you stupid kid. I told you not to move.”
Irving flinched and the man took a shot. He missed. Irving’s head started to spin. He saw the man, then the gun. Then the man again. Irving hoped the man would put the gun down. Instead, the man held it up.
“I thought you were my friend, Irving! I thought you would stay with me and we would go to Memphis. I really wanted to meet your family, you know. I wanted to make you part of my family.”
The man shook his head from side to side while looking at Irving.
“You don’t get it, do you? You’re my only friend. The one kid I thought could get me, you know? You’re my friend, Irving!”
The train started winding up with a loud hum. The man ground his teeth and tapped the gun on the side of his head.
“Why don’t you get it, Irving? What don’t you get.”
Irving stared back. The thought of dying was uncomfortable. Knowing that something so impalpable could be real. How would it feel to die, he wondered. God, how did I end up here? The words never left Irving’s mouth but they were just as real. I should have gone home. I wish my mother knew how much I loved her. I wish I would have stayed in Boston. He had so many regrets. He was too young to go away.
Irving was so caught up in the necessity of his existence that he didn’t even notice how much the man had rambled on. It was when there was a sudden silence that Irving decided he must try to escape. He must. With that he launched himself at the man.
“Give me the gun.”
Irving pulled at the man’s hands.
“Stop it, kid. I don’t want to have to do this again.”
The man’s eyes grew wide. Irving could see the red and blue veins.
“Just give me the gun, man. Give it to me.” Irving struggled for the gun. The man wouldn’t back down.
“No! Why are you doing this, Irving? I thought you were my friend.”
“Shut up, shut up! Give. Me. The. Gun. Give it to me now! I want it now,” Irving shouted.
The man pulled the gun back and pointed it at his temple. Then at Irving. And back toward himself. This pissed Irving off even more. What was wrong with this guy. Irving didn’t know. The one thing he did know was the danger that lay ahead in this game of unwilling Russian roulette between the man and himself. In the struggle it went off again. Half a second later, Irving stood alone with a gun and bloody hands. The man fell to the ground, landing with a thud.
“God, what have I done?” Irving dropped the gun and stared at his hands. Thick gobs of blood covered the hands that now seemed to belong to someone else. The hands that once hugged and held his mother no longer existed. Instead, he was left with an emptiness that could only be resolved by removing his hands. The quick thinking kid who boarded the train was gone, just like the last remnants of night that live in the shadows during the day.
Irving looked out the window. The train was still moving. The next stop was Memphis. He stood still, silently holding his breath, as the train passed a cemetery. He let out a loud, slightly labored sigh as the train crossed the last tombstone. Seeing the cemetery in the distance forced him back to the task at hand. Should he try to run or wait for the police in Memphis?
Irving was guilty. He couldn’t deny it. What was left for Irving now? He couldn’t think of a thing that wasn’t fraught with pain and misery. He picked up the gun and held it tightly in his hand. He turned it up to his face, beguiled by its smooth barrel and dark brownish red spots. His hand stiffened as he put the gun in his mouth. With a boom and a screech the train had reached Memphis. A man had been shot and there was no one left to blame. The two had been found. Both dead. Claimed by the Midnight Train.
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